Handling the plagues of laptop campers


Space is an expensive commodity, made ever more valuable at peak times in coffee shops with smaller amount of covers. A café is a business like any other and costs money to sustain – customers wouldn’t whip out a laptop in a restaurant after finishing their meal and expect to stay for several hours, so why are coffee shops any different? This rise in popularity of ‘coffice’ workspace is significantly harming smaller businesses as owners are unsure as to the best way to tackle this infestation.

Deter them from starting

Why fight a problem if you can stop it happening in the first place? A host of coffee shops have adopted a range of strategies to prevent laptop campers from even setting up.

Independent café August First believes its decision to ban laptops and iPads is the best business decision it has ever made. When owner Jodi Whalen was asked how this decision had affected the business, she said: “We simply couldn’t survive as a business with so many people using their laptops here. Since the ban, we have experience a double in year-on-year revenue growth than before the ban.”

The positive vibe of a coffee shop is essential to its success, providing a social environment for people to come and enjoy coffee. Whalen comments, “We want this to be a place where people come to see people they know, chitchat, laugh as opposed to sitting, their faces illuminated by the blue light of a laptop screen.”

A less severe deterrent that several coffee shops, including prime Starbucks outlets have adopted, is to block power sockets with metal covers or heavy furniture. Living in a battery run society, means that a power supply is essential for freelancers and students to work in a coffee shop. Thereby, taking this away limits the time they can work in a coffee shop, with only their current battery life to depend on. This often proves enough of a deterrent to stop workers from pitching camp altogether.

Another technological attack that is proving popular with café owners is restricting the Wi-Fi, giving customers a limited time of access, or in some cases, cutting the internet connection completely. This can surprisingly offer a host of benefits outside of warding off ‘coffice’ workers. Annie Kostiner owner of Wi-Fi free coffee shop Kibbitznest, speaks about why she made the decision to sever the café’s internet connection: “It was done to raise awareness about the imbalance between the use of electronic technology and face-to-face communication.” This gives the café a more ‘buzzy’ environment which it attributes to much of its success. In terms of finance, not only is seating more available, but costs are saved from the monthly bill for the café Wi-Fi.

Maximise camper spend

With a glass-half-full approach, having laptop campers pitching up in a coffee shop for hours can be turned into a profitable advantage. Some cafés even embrace it, as laptop workers represent such a large potential client base, with 43 per cent of people working from a coffee shop at least once a week.

Like any customer, café owners should use every trick in the book to increase laptop worker spend, from menu psychology to the positioning of impulse purchase items. This market does however, require extra treatment. Table service seems to be an effective way of ensuring campers continue paying for the space they occupy, and with the rise of contactless payment, there is less ‘awkward faff’ when it comes to paying for coffee, says Ross Brown, owner of cashless café Browns of Brockley.

An innovative concept from London based coffee shop CAYA is to specialise as an office workspace, but instead of charging customers for their drinks, CAYA charges customers per hour they make use of the space, providing them with bottomless coffee or tea as they work. “We are a speciality coffee shop that provides everything customers could want for an office, but without the politics, including Wi-Fi, ample plug sockets and abundant space to work, including meeting rooms,” says a spokesperson from The Coffee House.

Kicking them out

After providing a customer with a substantial caffeine buzz and full stomach, there comes the challenge of getting them out the door; the difficulty being that customers develop a sense of ‘temporary psychological ownership’ once they make a purchase within a café, says Merlyn Griffiths, a researcher into customer territorial behaviour.

Being rational with firm reasoning is key when requesting that customers leave, emphasising the fairness of offering new customers a seat. Handling this with a positive demeaner is “essential to avoid the backlash of negative criticism on social media platforms which can be very harmful to businesses,” says Griffiths. ‘Suggesting they move to a smaller table can be an effective strategy, as this increases a cafés potential covers.”

It’s not all bad

Despite having several negative impacts upon coffee shops, business people do represent a significant, and well-off, proportion of the market. Getting paying customers into a café that would otherwise have an empty seat makes logical business sense. Pair this with the potential to create returning client base, it becomes integral that coffee shops cater for this market and handle them in the correct way if they wish to maximise potential profit.

As a side note, we do have the coffeeshop-work environment to thank for blessing us with the first Harry Potter book. Whether J.K Rowling regularly bought extra coffees and secondary spend items while writing, we’re unsure.


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